We have a dinner ritual where we take turns saying what we are thankful for each day. Even before Kellen could speak words, I still asked him “what are you thankful for?” I wanted to make sure he knew he was included in the conversation.
Last night at dinner, when it was Kellen’s turn to answer, he replied “Liam.” I have no idea if he comprehended what he was saying, or if he was just pointing to the person sitting next to him, but Liam was over the moon. Liam began laughing and squealing, saying “He knows my name! He called me Liam! He is thankful for me!” It was one of those moments in life where everything aligns just so, to create a perfect moment. Liam finished his dinner, ran over to hug his brother and exclaim “I’m thankful for Kellen.”
The thankful ritual started after a dinner with my in-laws. Eric and Sandy are both religious. They are active members of a church, but have never pushed their beliefs on me. For that I am thankful, but I also try to be respectful of their faith. I know they usually say a prayer at dinner, so I encouraged them to say a blessing that evening. We all held hands around the table, and Eric said a few words of thanks.
For whatever reason, Liam was very interested in this blessing idea. As we sat around our table the following night, he asked if we could say a prayer.
If this was some sort of cartoon, an angel and devil would have appeared on my shoulders. I paused for a moment or two, conflicted as to what to do. I am not a religious person, and have a few issues with organized religion. I generally take the religious equivalent of a “don’t ask don’t tell” policy when it comes to matters of faith.
I always told myself that if my kids expressed interest in religion on their own, I would support their curiosity. I just hadn’t really thought through the details of that. Liam wanted to say a blessing. Great. Except he was looking at me as the adult to lead the blessing. Do I exit the situation gracefully by rambling off a prayer, or do I have a theological debate with a three year old?
I said a quick prayer, and internally made a note to think about a proper response. The next night, Liam again asked for a blessing. Since I had spent the day in contemplation, I thought I knew what to do. I still pray on my own, mostly because it brings me comfort to do so, but I do not pray to a specific god. I have no idea what or who is really out there, or if he/she/it answers prayers. But I figured since I prayed to someone, it was ok to voice a prayer at dinner.
The only real problem is how to end the prayer. When I pray on my own, I just stop when I’m done. At the table, everyone is waiting for a signal that the prayer is over and it’s time to eat. I didn’t want to say “amen” because I associate that with religion. There was an awkward pause and then I just blurted out “amen” because I had no idea what to do. Back to the drawing board.
I settled on the idea of vocalizing what we are thankful for. The main benefit I saw from the prayer at my in-laws table was that they consciously gave thanks for the bounty in their lives. I wanted my kids to take notice and be appreciative of the world around them on a daily basis. We started our thankful ritual, and I patted myself on the back. Job well done.
Not so fast. Theology probably can’t be summed up in a few moments before diving into a cheeseburger. Today while driving in the car, Liam began to name all the buildings we were passing on the street- school, house, restaurant, etc. He comes to a building he does not recognize and asks “what’s that?”
“That’s a church,” I respond, hoping that is the end of the conversation. Of course, it is not.
“What is a church?” he inquires.
I am a bit stumped. How do I explain this, having never broached the subject of religion with him before.
“Well, a church is a place people meet to talk about God.”
The function of my brain grinds to a halt. I am beyond perplexed as to how to respond to this question.
“Well, God made the ground, and the mountains, and water, and the trees.” What kind of answer is that? I don’t even know what words are leaving my mouth at this point.
“Oh. Can we watch the movie of the spaceman again?” The day prior I had let him watch the video of Felix Baumgartner jumping the edge of space. My son has now made some sort of correlation between God and a guy wearing a spacesuit emblazoned with Red Bull logos performing a publicity stunt.
“Yes, we can watch it when we get home.”
And that’s as far as I’ve gotten. Now I’m sitting here typing to you, wondering how to explain God, religion, and my own personal beliefs to a three year old, without becoming a hypocrite, liar, or jackass in the process. I knew this parenting gig would get complicated. I just didn’t know it would be so soon.